Medical Cannabis for Arthritis: 3 Things to Know

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Medical Cannabis for Arthritis

Arthritis is a painful and debilitating type of joint disease which causes the joints to swell and stiffen. An estimated 50 million Americans are afflicted with arthritis and, according to the Arthritis Foundation, it is the leading cause of disability in the U.S.The symptoms of both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are caused by the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking healthy cells which leads to painful swelling, stiffness, and limited mobility of the joints. Fortunately, for patients seeking a natural treatment for their arthritis, medical cannabis– also known as medical marijuana- has been shown to be successful in providing relief of arthritis symptoms. Here are three things to know about using medical cannabis for arthritis relief:

1. How medical cannabis works. The two main chemical components of cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are very similar to the body’s own endocannabinoid system. When these chemicals are introduced into the body at proper doses, they stimulate the endocannabinoid system and interact with endocannabinoid receptors in the brain. As a result of this process, the brain sends signals throughout the body, producing a series of different effects. For example, cannabidiol (CBD) specifically interacts with the receptors known as CB1 and CB2. These two receptors are associated with the body’s ability to regulate the release of neurotransmitters and immune cells from the central nervous system, allowing the body to naturally fight neuropathic pain. For patients suffering from arthritis, this is very encouraging as scientists are finding that medical cannabis compounds work to slow down the progression of chronic immunity problems while alleviating the symptoms.

2. What the research says. Recently, there have been several studies looking into the relationship between the chemicals in cannabis and how they affect arthritis and other conditions related to the immune system. A study published in Rheumatology (Oxford) found that a medication made with CBD improved pain, reduced inflammation, and improved sleep for the study participants with minimal side effects. Another study published in Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management used cannabis compounds in an attempt to treat chronic pain which had been unresponsive to all other treatments and medications. What the researchers discovered was that the cannabis-based medication was generally well-tolerated and led to a reduction and pain and improved sleep. A 2016 study published in the European Journal of Pain published a study that showed rodents experienced a reduction in joint pain and inflammation. In addition to relieving pain and inflammation, studies have shown that by activating the CB1 the CB2 receptors, medical cannabis can promote proper bone formation and block bone resorption by the body!

3. How to use medical cannabis for arthritis relief. The good news is that those suffering from arthritis have a variety of methods to find relief with medical cannabis. Some of the more common treatment methods include:

  • Topical ointments which can provide immediate relief to a targeted area lasting for several hours. Using medical cannabis as a topical does not result in any psychoactive effects and can be used as often as needed without negative side effects.
  • Edibles, such as medical cannabis gummies, are infused with cannabis oil and can provide arthritis pain relief for up to 8 hours. The effects take longer to work than a topical ointment but can be very effective for managing pain for longer periods of time.
  • Vaporizers are a method of heating cannabis oil for inhalation without the negative side effects or odors associated with smoking (Note: smoking is not advised). This method of ingestion is recommended when immediate relief is necessary and has the added benefit of allowing the patient to increase the dosage as needed. 
  • Cannabis oil tinctures and full extracts are also available for pain relief and should be used under the supervision of a reputable medical cannabis practitioner to ensure a responsible dosage protocol is used. 

When using medical cannabis for the first time, it is important that the patient work closely with their medical provider to find a method of ingestion and a dosage that is responsible, yet effective. A qualified medical cannabis practitioner will be experienced in providing their patients with a dose that is strong enough to alleviate symptoms while mitigating any unwanted side effects, such as feeling “high” or sedated. For many patients new to cannabis as a medicine, it’s advised that they begin their treatment plan with a small dose and gradually increase to a therapeutic level. The amounts of THC and CBD in each medicine can vary widely among medical cannabis oil makers and a reputable company will be able to provide their patients with a full independent lab report stating the exact chemical makeup of their medications. This is important to ensure the quality of the product as well as an appropriate dosage for the patient. With the correct strain, dosage, and method of ingestion, medical cannabis will provide patients relief from their pain, inflammation, and other symptoms associated with arthritis.

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